Transforming WSA Library into ‘The Library of Eden’: a guest blog post by Fine Art student Jessica Mann

 

“He had, they said, tasted in succession all the apples of the tree of knowledge, and, whether from hunger or disgust, had ended by tasting the forbidden fruit.” 

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

 

Knowledge. Wisdom. Teaching. Female sexuality. Fertility. Health. Forbidden fruit. Temptation. Deception. The varied symbolism of apples has a long history; rooted within both religious and secular culture. In this guest blog post, Jessica Mann (a 3rd year BA (Hons) Fine Art student) explains why she chose WSA Library as the site of ‘The Library of Eden’; an installation which explores “the symbolic nature of the apple throughout art history and present day culture.”

 

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Image 1: ‘The Library of Eden’ by Jessica Mann. Installation in WSA Libary. Photograph by Jessica Mann.

 

The WSA Library has been one of my favourite places, ever since I began studying at the art school. It’s not just the access to books; it’s the atmosphere that does it for me; the light through the roof windows, the quiet, contemplation and concentration. You can almost hear minds working and sense knowledge being absorbed through the silence.

Ideas that come from words, language and books are at the heart of my practice. I explore ways to express visually our relationship with writing, reading, speaking and the acquisition of knowledge. This might be with a painting, a collage, the arrangement or alteration of a found object or a film; or a collection of several of these.

 

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Image 2: ‘The Library of Eden’ by Jessica Mann. Installation in WSA Libary. Photograph by Jessica Mann.

 

It was only natural therefore that, in preparing my final major project (FMP), I considered the influence of the library on my studies. Researching installation and conceptual art as well as the field of expanded painting I decided I wanted to create an intervention in the library as part of my FMP. The installation is part of my final Degree Show and will be open to the public from 14th – 21st June. It is the first time that the Library has been used as a site for the School’s Degree Show so I was treading new ground with both the library staff and health & safety rules.

My ‘Library of Eden’ was inspired by author, Helene Cixous, who wrote: “reading is like eating the forbidden fruit”. This prompted me to study and research the symbolic nature of the apple throughout art history and present day culture. Considering the apple like a book and the book like an apple led to an exercise photographing books alongside apples in both the WSA Library and the Warburg Institute in London, which houses some of the oldest and rarest books in the country.

 

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Image 3: ‘The Library of Eden’ by Jessica Mann. Installation in WSA Libary. Photograph by Jessica Mann.

 

The installation includes over 150 apples placed strategically on the top shelves of the library to represent the need to stretch and reach for knowledge. Other apples are sequestered among spaces on the shelves next to books and some are on the tables. Sculptures made from books that have been cut and altered are displayed in the reception area and on some of the working tables and several paintings depicting images of Eve with the forbidden fruit, women reading and apples hang from the library wall. The installation, called ‘The Library of Eden’, does not prevent students from using the library as normal but does create a thoughtful, unusual atmosphere.

I was so pleased that Catherine Polley and the library team have been so positive and helpful from the first moment when I approached them with my somewhat crazy idea. I have always loved the serenity and atmosphere of contemplation and studiousness within the library and in my art installation I wanted to celebrate that as well as make the connection with the concept of knowledge acquisition in a playful way. Food is not allowed in the library so my approach broke the rules but with plenty of signage, Catherine and her team were OK with it.

 

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Image 4: ‘The Library of Eden’ by Jessica Mann. Installation in WSA Libary. Photograph by Jessica Mann.

 

As I installed it, with help from two fellow art students, we were conscious not to disturb the students working in the library – we quietly placed and secured the apples and constructed the book sculptures with haste but precision. The reaction from students was really positive with some commenting on the lovely aroma and others remarking on how therapeutic the apples are to look at. In order to ensure no health and safety risks, library visitors are told not to eat the apples via a poster and labels around the shelves and tables and I will be checking them regularly to ensure they don’t rot or attract flies!

‘The Library of Eden’ will be examined as part of my final submission for my BA degree and it will be open to the public until June 21st. I have two other pieces in the Show, which also connect thematically with books and apples in the Painting Studio.

My work can be seen on my website: www.jessicamannartist.co.uk

 

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Image 5: ‘The Library of Eden’ by Jessica Mann. Installation in WSA Libary. Photograph by Jessica Mann.

 

Jessica Mann’s ‘The Library of Eden’ will be on display in WSA Library until 21st June. Free to view and open to all.

For more information about WSA Library, please see our LibGuides page: https://library.soton.ac.uk/wsa

 

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